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                    Special Issue: Heathrow airport Terminal 5
          A. Wolstenholme et al., Civil Engineering, 161, No. 5, May 2008

Sam Chalmers

I was at the terminal building on Thursday 27 March 2008 and it was not functioning,
so how can BAA capital projects director Andrew Wolstenholme say in his
introduction to the special issue it was ‘completed’ on 27 March. If my company
commits to ‘on time and to budget,’ it means that the client has use of the product
immediately completion is achieved.
         He also refers to ‘this remarkably successful project’. The terminal building is
unremarkable and unsuccessful—it is just a big shed with the same old-fashioned
ideas about passenger convenience.
         It has no proper weather protection for people being dropped off by car—just
some fancy, decorative shades. It has no baggage trolleys to hand. There is a long
walk to check-in. The information display screens are tiny. There are no business-
class check-in desks. There are queues at the hand-baggage security screening. The
signage for the lounges is poor and the lounges are too far to go with too many
escalators to get to them. There are more long walks, more escalators, and a people-
mover with irritating announcements and slow opening and closing doors; then
further poor signage at the gates. In effect, it is just a glorified supermarket with a
plane ride at the end.
         If the same people running Terminals 1 to 4—no hand-baggage trolleys at the
arrival gates, damaged floor-coverings, broken furniture, tacky hand-written notices,
long waits to show a perfectly valid British passport and so on—are let loose on
Terminal 5 (T5), it will not be long before it looks and operates the same. Assuming,
that is, it ever starts operating properly after the failed attempt on 27 March.
         I suggest BAA and its advisors visit Dubai International to see how a slick
airport works. I guarantee when its new Terminal 3 opens in a few months’ time, it
will run like clockwork—and passengers will love it too.

Mike Thorn

Although a detailed account and record of the engineering of Heathrow airport’s T5 is
appropriate and welcome, it is a little like admiring a new kitchen while trying to
ignore the fact that the rest of the house is an antiquated slum at the end of a bumpy
         The truth, as experienced by millions of passengers, is that Heathrow is a
congested and scruffy mess with complicated inter-terminal transit arrangements and
hopelessly inadequate transport access. The Heathrow Express service from London
to all four terminals was one glimmer of light, which has been extinguished by the
failure or inability to insert T5 onto a rail loop, thus greatly increasing the journey
time and complexity for those arriving at Terminal 4.
         For all its engineering achievement, T5 simply serves to prolong the life of an
antiquated airport which was already unfit for purpose. Passengers experience the
airport and its access routes as a whole, and one glitzy terminal does little to lift the
whole experience.
Those who have experienced Singapore Changi airport or the new Beijing Capital
International airport know that it does not have to be like this. The engineering
profession should be promoting a more radical airport strategy: the Thames estuary
airport plan of the 1970s would be a good starting point.

Mark Groundsell

I was interested to see that thought was given to combined heat and power (CHP) at
Heathrow airport T5 but this was discarded in favour of a CHP system that
would serve air cargo and perhaps later on T5. If the T5 energy centre is producing
the chilled water and heating from its own gas-fed boilers, while receiving power
generated elsewhere (by Thames Valley Power), then I am finding reference to CHP a
little misleading. I notice in Fig. 1 a plume of smoke over the gas boiler stacks and a
cloud of steam over the condensers. Was there no opportunity to use a combined-
cycle gas turbine for tri-generation for some local power, if you are going to burn gas

Authors’ reply to Sam Chalmers

From a passenger’s perspective, T5 on day one fell well short of anything
approaching acceptable. BAA tracked 12 large infrastructure projects—including
several airports—and found examples that were a billion pounds over budget, a year
late or failed to deliver the functionality that had been briefed.
         The principal cause of distress on day on at T5 was the reported failure of the
baggage system. However, it will surprise many to hear that the baggage system
behaved as it was designed and performed well on day one. The end-to-end baggage
process, however, failed and, as a result, check-in was closed as progressively the
baggage system became saturated with bags. This was due to the logistics process
delivering inadequate capacity to take bags off the lateral conveyors and to deliver
them in ‘cans’ to the waiting aircraft.
         With so much focus on the behavioural relationships being at the core of the
successful delivery of T5, it is ironic that the failure of the opening day was not the
engineering (though we would accept that the systems still needed to bed-down under
full operating conditions), but the relationships between the operators and their
readiness and familiarity to drive an ‘intelligent’ baggage system. For this both BA
and BAA are at fault.
         The relationship between the airport operator and the airlines using the facility
is vital. The readiness of each stakeholder to operate on day one should not be
assumed—even following the evidence at T5 of the 72 integrated trials, the 16 000
volunteers who participated and the many occasions that the baggage system was
taken up to test its resilience at full capacity.
         We all wish for a successful opening of the new Dubai International facilities
later in 2008. In 2007, when the airport operator from Dubai visited T5 to share
learning, the airport was due to open later that year.
         The comments on T5’s layout are best answered by the passengers themselves.
Feedback from the 3 million passengers who have used T5 since the opening falls
generally under two themes. First, the great passenger experience that T5 provides
and, second, ‘what a great building’.
Authors’ reply to Mike Thorn

The papers consider the architectural and engineering aspects of the £4·3 billion T5
programme, and how it was delivered using the T5 agreement. The papers do not
comment specifically on the development of Heathrow. If they did they would capture
the long history of government policy, made over several decades, and the response
by BAA, as both a public- and private-sector company, and its stakeholders.
        The commission for the third London airport concluded over 30 years ago not
to develop a site at Maplin Sands in the Thames Estuary due, in the main, to concerns
over the environment and the lack of fast access to London. Since then, Stansted has
been developed as London’s third airport.
        The design competition for T5 at Heathrow was won by Richard Rogers
Partnership in 1989, some 19 years before it finally opened. Many would argue that in
2008 we should not be celebrating the opening of a new terminal to support the One
World Alliance (including British Airways) on the western aprons at Heathrow—
instead we should be celebrating the total transformation of Heathrow, with the new
eastern hub for the Star Alliance, together with the refurbished Terminals 3 and 4.
Today, however, we are still five years away from this £4 billion transformation
programme being completed.
        The voice of the engineering profession in the UK has been quiet for many
years. The current ‘inconvenience’ of Heathrow being located to the west of London,
as pointed out by the contributor, should galvanise the profession into two actions.
First, by supporting the Heathrow transformation programme to return this airport to
the standards of other international airports we have all experienced around the world,
and second, to enter into the debate, at national level, to influence more effectively the
important questions that face us all over airport expansion.

Authors’ reply to Mark Groundsell

Around 85% of T5's heat is supplied by a CHP plant located approximately 2 km
from the site. This plant, a 15 MW gas turbine, was an existing facility located at
BAA's cargo centre to the south of the airport. It supplies waste heat from the
electrical generator process to both T5 and the cargo centre.
         It was therefore not necessary to construct a second CHP facility within the T5
energy centre, but to build the connection to transfer the waste heat from the cargo
facility. The use of this plant abates approximately 11 000 t of carbon dioxide a year.
         The boiler plant in the T5 energy centre is used as a top-up to make up the
peak demand and as a back-up in the event of any failure of the CHP plant, thus
ensuring operational continuity of the T5 main buildings. These facilities form part of
an airport-wide energy strategy, which will see them connected to renewable energy
sources and the introduction of absorption chilling into the T5 energy centre to make
use of the CHP heat during the summer.
         Fig. 1 was taken during the commissioning period of the energy centre